By Humairaa Mayet
Israel has no intention of ending its illegitimate occupation of Palestinian land, according to a Commission of Inquiry established by the UN’s Human Rights Council.
The “Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), including East Jerusalem, and Israel”, headed by South African jurist and former UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay, released its report this week.
The commission was created after the 2021 Israeli attacks on Gaza, the largest open-air prison in the world. The report details the myriad asymmetries that the Israeli occupation has spawned, and acknowledges the injustices faced by Palestinians.
The commission, comprised of jurists from South Africa, India and Australia, were permitted entry into Palestine and neighbouring states to investigate their circumstances, but Israel neither allowed the commission entry to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, nor did it comment on the report when asked to.
It insisted that “Israel cannot and will not cooperate with such an investigation”. The commission found that Palestinians suffered an extraordinary amount of discrimination, and “identified forced displacement, threats of forced displacement, demolitions, settlement construction and expansion, settler violence and the blockade of Gaza as contributing factors to recurring cycles of violence”.
Israel’s occupation of Gaza, the Golan Heights and the West Bank (including Jerusalem), which began in 1967, exacerbated the ill-treatment of Palestinians. The report examines Israel’s “occupation in perpetuity”; the illegal transfer of settlers into occupied territory; discrimination against Palestinians; settler violence; Israel’s violations of Palestinian economic, social and cultural rights; forced displacement of Palestinian populations; Israel’s attacks on Palestinian civic space; and Israel’s violence against Palestinian women – among other violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
The belligerent occupation, and before it, the creation of the state of Israel, resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Israel has constructed numerous settlements which are illegal under international law.
The report points out that Gaza and the West Bank are effectively under Israeli control – even though Gaza is supposedly under the control of a Hamas “government” and the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority. Although residents of Gaza are not subject to Israeli laws, their freedom is tightly controlled by the Israeli military through a land, sea and air blockade. In the West Bank, Palestinians live under Israeli military law, while Israeli civil law applies to illegal settlers.
One focus of the report was the hundreds of Palestinians under administrative detention (detention without charge or trial), and the disproportionately high number of child prisoners. Israel uses the threat of detention, it says, to prevent Palestinians from exercising their right to self-determination.
Pillay said there have been multiple recommendations by UN bodies that Israel has repeatedly failed to implement. The report also mentions recommendations that were directed towards Palestinian leadership that were not upheld. Violence against women by the occupation is highlighted in the report, which finds that the Israeli military disproportionately attacks Palestinian women, as they are seen as easy targets.
The commission also received reports of women being subjected to sexual violence by Israeli soldiers during night raids. The report concluded that ending the occupation would not be sufficient to ensure that peace is brought about. The lack of implementation of various UN recommendations, “coupled with a sense of impunity” is clear evidence that Israel has no intention of ending the occupation, Pillay said.
Israel, she suggests, is determined to ensure that its military occupation endures with the purpose of perpetually controlling Palestinians and Palestinian territory. Pillay blamed the international community for enabling Israel’s violations of international law.
“This includes, but is not limited to, the transfer of arms when there is a clear risk that they might be used to commit or facilitate serious violations or abuses of international human rights law,” she said. Many commentators expected the report to describe certain of Israel’s actions as “apartheid”, but it avoids doing so, choosing not to follow the narrative of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and a number of organisations whose analyses show that the Israeli occupation is, indeed, guilty of apartheid. Na’eem Jeenah, executive director of the Afro-Middle East Centre, said the report should be welcomed.
“The international law violations that the commission highlighted are substantial and point to a state acting with complete impunity and a lack of legitimacy. Even if the report does not use the word ‘apartheid’, its descriptions of Israel’s actions against Palestinians fit the definition of apartheid.
“It is also significant that Navi Pillay is making the international community culpable and calling, essentially, for an arms embargo against Israel,” he said.
Jeenah said South Africa, which claims to champion the Palestinian cause, should be spurred into action by this report to “lead the charge for Israel’s actions to be labelled as ‘apartheid’ by the UN, and to demand a boycott against trading arms with Israel, as was done in the case of apartheid South Africa”.
It is expected that the commission will continue its work and produce an annual report on violations of international law by Israeli and Palestinian role players.
* Mayet is a member of the SA BDS Coalition and a Master’s candidate at the University of the Witwatersrand.